I arrived in Jena, Germany on March 19th. You can read about my first few days in Jena below. Es war lustig :)
I really lucked out at the airport. I’m pretty much positive that both of my suitcases were overweight, but the person checking me in never mentioned the weight (& I sure wasn’t about to ask!). She also let my parents go through security with me, which was especially great seeing as how we’d gotten to the airport about four hours early. I wasn’t aware that you could do that still, and I guess it was only because I’m going to be abroad for quite awhile, but it sure was nice not to have to spend hours in the terminal alone. We had plenty of time to go to Ruby Tuesday for salads before I had to board the plane for Philly.
My layover in Philly was pretty short, and I was sort of worried that I was going to be in a time crunch because the terminal I landed at was on the opposite side of the airport from the international travel terminal. Luckily everything was marked really well & I got to my gate just in time to board. The last time I flew to Europe, I had the hardest time sleeping. Granted, that was before I joined the rowing team and became a pro at sleeping in 15 passenger vans, but I packed some benadryl in my backpack anyway, just to be on the safe side. It sure worked; I slept right through dinner! When I finally did wake up, we were a little over an hour away from Frankfurt.
My least favorite part about flying is landing. I’d say it even trumps the luggage max weight of 50lbs annoyance, especially on transatlantic flights. I think my sinuses hate me & it’s impossible for me to hear anything even after we land. Such a pain in the butt, especially when you’re trying to understand German at 5 in the morning! Luckily I made it through customs, getting my luggage, and buying my train tickets to Jena without having to say/comprehend too much. Getting to my train track was a bit of an adventure… let’s just say I don’t envy anyone who has to juggle two huge suitcases, a backpack, camera bag, and “purse” on an escalator =]
My parents had asked me to keep them updated once I got to Frankfurt, so I figured I would call them again once I found my train. I also needed to call my guest family and Tutorin to let them know when they should come pick me up from the train station. Well, when I got to the right train tracks my phone decided that it didn’t want to function as an international phone anymore, and the international data plan that they promised was there and “switched on” wasn’t working either. I was annoyed to have to go searching for a payphone after all the hours I’d spent in the Verizon store and on the phone with them… Everything worked out fine, but it was still more than a little annoying.
My experience on the train was interesting. The cars are not designed to deal with a suitcase as big as mine (and of course I had two of them), so that was a bit of a challenge! After realizing how much extra time I needed to budget to get anywhere with my mass amount of luggage, I started to get a little worried about how I was going to get from the train in Gotha to a bus that would take me to Weimar in six minutes. I had know idea how big of a train station Gotha was, but considering it probably took me about six minutes to maneuver my luggage onto the train, it wasn’t looking promising. Luckily the woman sitting in front of me on the train was extremely helpful and nice. She asked me where I was going and explained why we were taking a bus to Weimar instead of a train (rail construction today, just my luck). She also grabbed one of my suitcases and bags, so we made it off the train and to the lift rather quickly. She gave me directions to the bus and wished me good luck & headed for the stairs… apparently she’s afraid of elevators. The elevator car was pretty crowed already & I didn’t think I’d fit with all of my luggage so I was just going to wait for the car to return. To my surprise, a couple seconds later the elevator doors opened and all of the people inside filed out. I was really confused, but got in the elevator anyway. Nothing happened. Another lady got in and pushed the same button I had just tried. Still nothing. She jumped up and down a couple of times. Nothing.
“Funktioniert nicht! Komm mit!” she told me, and I followed her through the crowd of people on the platform. She stopped at the top of the stairs, and I looked down. 3 flights. At that point, I’d pretty much given up on any hope of making my bus. The woman was already carrying a couple of bags, but grabbed one of my big suitcases and started down the stairs anyway. I followed after her quickly, and she led me right to the bus that was miraculously still there! =] The rest of my trip to Jena went really smoothly… I found my guest family and fit my luggage in their car without a problem. But I am extremely grateful to those two generous strangers who helped me on and off the train.
My guest family is very nice and patient with my poor German. It definitely hasn’t been easy; the only time I’ve been able to speak English since I left Philly has been talking to friends and family back home on skype. I know it will come in time, but it’s so frustrating to have to speak in such simple terms. It’s not like German class at all, where you can sneak in a question in English if you need to be certain you’re understanding something correctly or if you don’t know a word. The accents are different here, too. I know it will all come in time, but I’ve never been all that great at being patient!
I’m really glad I decided to come a couple of weeks early & complete a home stay program before starting classes at the University. It is really interesting to see what a “typical” German’s home and lifestyle is like. There are a lot of things we have in common, but also a lot of things that are very different. Slippers, for instance, are a must. I’m beginning to wish that I had packed a pair, because I always get a crazy look when I walk around the house barefoot. They’re so into slippers then when I go to my Guest Grandmother’s house for “lunch” (more on that in a second…) she makes me put on a pair of hers. I know she’s trying to be polite and whatnot, but the concept is still a little weird to me!
As happy as I am that I decided to live with a family for the first two weeks, I’m also extremely happy that it’s only two weeks. & that is for mainly one reason: the food. Oh my gosh, I never thought I’d say this after having to cut weight for Chicago right before I left for Germany, but I would KILL for spinach right now. I made the mistake of sitting next to my host dad the first night at dinner, and he kept putting more bread and cheese and meat on my plate. I thought I was going to be sick! It all tastes very good, but I don’t think Americans are designed to handle that much rich food all the time. I know I sure wouldn’t be able to… 5 days has been a stretch! I would love to go downtown and grab some of the amazing looking produce I saw yesterday in the market and make myself a salad for lunch, but my Guest Grandmother has me over for Mittagessen (“lunch”) every day. It is very thoughtful, and she is also pretty patient with my poor German, but lunch is always meat and potatoes and bread and salad (although I’ve yet to see anything green in what she calls a “Salat”).
Running in Jena has also been a challenge. I’ve yet to find a route that doesn’t include at least a mile of cobblestones. I did find the boathouse yesterday, though! I’m meeting the coach there tomorrow, and I’m hoping to be able to get out on the water soon =]
I’ve also had problems registering with the Bürgeramt. I didn’t realize this until after I’d gotten there, but apparently you need to bring a rental agreement with you when you register, I guess to prove that you’re not just planning on living on the streets… Unfortunately I didn’t have that, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to get it until April 1st. Which meant that I wouldn’t be able to open a bank account here until the beginning of April either. I’m guessing that normally wouldn’t be a huge problem, but the scholarship I got from DAAD deposits directly into my bank account here. No bank account, no monies. & although I can withdraw money from my account at home, I’d really rather not have to do that because of the poor exchange rate and fees on international transactions. Luckily, I just got an email back from the woman who handles rental agreements, and she is free to meet tomorrow! Yay! =]
Last night was my “first night out” since I got here. My host family doesn’t seem to drink alcohol… I didn’t ask why because I figured that would be rude, so I hadn’t had any German beer or drinks yet, even though I’ve been here since Saturday! So last night I met up with Jennett and her friend Stefanie. I met Jennett while she was in the States visiting my friends Kristin and Kelsey. Kristin and Kelsey both studied in Jena last year, and Jennett was Kristen’s roommate. It was SO nice to finally see some of Jena’s nightlife. The street that all the bars are on looks like something right out of Harry Potter. We went to a bar called Rossini, which is Jennett’s favorite. I haven’t been to many of the bars in EL, but it was definitely completely different from BDubs or Crunchy’s. & I still can’t say that I’ve tasted German beer yet… I got what Jennett recommended instead. It was a bit more girly, and very good =]
I’ll leave you with this for now, and update on the rest of my time so far in Jena soon.